Page in Japanese

This article is a translation of an original Japanese article I wrote for Oxford University Press which was published in the Autumn of 2001. It is aimed at Japanese, non-English speaking, Classroom teachers, but I'm sure you'll find lots of useful info in there! If you do teach in Japan, then please print out the Japanese version for your teachers!

Everything about Elementary School English!

Up until now many Japanese adults have thought "English...err I studied it in school, but I can't speak it!". But with the new chances allowing you to teach International Understanding and English in Elementary school, if it's taught correctly then the new generation will grow up thinking "Yeah, this is fun! I want to learn more!!"

In my years teaching in Japanese Elementary Schools, and now as an Education Consultant who tours all around the country, I can see the results everyday. Where there are genki, motivated teachers who gear their lessons to the interests and abilities of their students, the change is enormous.

So now it's up to you, in your class!! Don't be scared, it's easy! Think "Dekiru, dekiru, dekiru" (I can do it, I can do it, I can do it!) and try your hardest and you'll succeed! Think Genki, Be Genki!

But I can't speak English?

Of course in an ideal situation all teachers would be wholly competent in the subject they are teaching. However in reality, this situation is not always achieved. But don't worry! This is the 21st century and you're not limited to a chalk board and silent books! Using computers, the internet and videos, the kids can still be exposed to real English pronunciation. Instead of "I am the teacher, learn from me!", become a student with the kids, learn together! If the kids see you trying hard, they'll want to try hard themselves!

English is Easy!

But one of the main problems in Japan is that people think that foreign languages are difficult. Do you really think that speaking English is difficult? Well, what about Genetic Engineering, is that difficult? Or what about my major, Physics or Quantum Mechanics? So let me ask again, is English difficult?

English is simply a foreign language, it's easy! But like anything else, if you think it's difficult, it will become difficult!! If you think it's easy, it will become easy! Just think about it, in England, Australia and America there are millions of really stupid people (and of course there are clever people as well!), but all these stupid people speak English fluently!!!

Joking aside, confidence is the key! Always have confidence, think "dekiru, dekiru, dekiru" and just go for it!! Do this and you can make it!!

Have a look at this cartoon to persuade your students!

And in the classroom

So you're in the classroom, what should you actually do? Well, forget the Japanese Junior High method of grammar based, written English! If you do it your lessons will be more than likely dull and boring and you'll turn another generation away from the joy of learning other languages and cultures! The best way to learn a language is to do it through something you are interested in. For example if you like fishing then learn and talk about fishing using English! Kids like games and songs, so this is the best way to teach them! On the website I give you all most of my best ideas for free, try something like the "gokiburi game" it's fun! (If you speak Japanese, the name itself just makes you want to try it out!)

But what English should I teach?

The Japanese Ministry of Education doesn't publish a set curriculum for Elementary school. This is a good thing as it allows you to mold your lessons to suit your own students! You also shouldn't teach writing nor ABCs (because unless you have at least an hour every week then there isn't time!), you should be teaching useful, communicative English that your students are interested in. Things like simple greetings (How are you? What's your name?), names of colours, directions (stand up, sit down, watch TV, etc.), numbers (but remember to teach 1-12 in one go so you can easily teach the time later, and teaching 13-20 becomes a lot easier), foods (Do you like...?).

Have a look at my "What are we supposed to be teaching?" article for more info, or have a look at my Elementary School Curriculum page.

Think like a kid!

This is the most important! When you are planning your lessons, imagine you are a 6 year old kid and think how you would want to learn English! How would you want to study? What would you want to study? This is the Playstation Generation, if you do the same things for 45 minutes, they'll get bored! Keep the same target language, but use lots of different techniques and genkiness to make the lesson fun!

Big voices!

I believe your kids should be really loud in class! But of course in a regular conversation people don't go round shouting at each other! So why would I recommend it for your class? Well the reason is that in Japan there are lots of really shy kids. If everyone speaks at normal levels these kids will never speak, hence get no practice, which is a waste of your time and their time! But if all the kids are speaking in big, loud voices then even these shy kids will speak just a little, and their gain in confidence will be enormous!

Learn the new words!

So, after the initial warm up, it's down to business to teach the new words for today! The best way is to use picture cards, speak in a loud voice and get the kids to repeat after you. In one 45 minute lesson I'd recommend teaching one question and around 8 different answers, this should take around 15 minutes of the lesson! See my "planning a fun 45 minute lesson" article for more!

Then it's time to practice this new English!!


The roles of games are to practice the target language! The advantages of games are:

1) They provide extra motivation to learn the target language - learn the new language, win the game!
2) They allow the kids to practice with their peers
3) The lessons become less teacher orientated and more student orientated!

And the biggest advantage is that they are FUN!!

The kids want to learn more so that they can try new games! But remember that a game for a game's sake is no good - choose a game that will let them practice their target language. Just thinking "what game shall we play today?" is no good! Choose the target English you wish to teach and then choose a game that allows you to practice that English!

Sometimes kids might get fed up if they lose a game, or other kids might tease the losers , in this case you must teach the kids the golden rule of games!

"Losing" doesn't mean "losing". The real meaning of the word is that you get another chance to try again!! You never fail until you stop trying!!!

If everyone is having fun, everyone is a winner!

On the website there are lots of classroom games, illustrated and presented in Japanese and English, great for joint lesson planning!


Listening and speaking are very important for kids learning English. But English cannot be written in Japanese katakana script, and as you shouldn't be teaching written English, how are the kids supposed to remember the words? The solution is "songs"! But most English songs contain lyrics that are far too difficult, and many traditional songs contain archaic words that are at best not used any more, or at worst discriminatory! So that's why I made the Genki English songs, they simply take the target language from a variety of topics and present them in a very catchy and fun way. These are funky little tunes that will stay in your head all day!!

But if you just say to your class "OK, let's sing a song", everyone will just sit there with a blank expression on their face! First of all teach the target English, then teach the song acapella (without any music), then save the CD (or free MP3) till last! This way you get to drill the target English, and then the CD brings in a huge boost of motivation and excitement at the end!

The Genki English songs don't just have words, there are also gestures, these make the target language even easier to learn! These songs are the reason we get so much press coverage, because the reporters are shocked by how much English the kids can learn and use!!

Teaching with an ALT!

If you are lucky enough to teach with an ALT, congratulations! Good ALTs are responsible for some of the most advanced and successful programmes in the country! But just remember ALTs aren't cassette recorders! Make sure you plan the lessons together, and work together as a team to make it the best you can! If only the Japanese teacher plans the lesson, it often leads to strange English being taught, or the promotion of false cultural stereotypes! (And I never ever want to hear "fine thank you, and you?" again!! ). One more thing, when the ALT speaks, don't become an interpreter! If you do then you become a barrier between the kids and the ALT! Work together, kids, ALT and teacher as a team!

And finally..

So there you go, that's a little taster of Elementary School English. If you want to know more, check out the rest of the articles on the website, read our newspaper & magazine articles or check out our teacher training video.

Teaching at Elementary School is the most interesting, fun and rewarding teaching you can do. And the kids really do change for the better! Even with just a few phrases, but with the right attitude, you can get the kids out of this "Japanese people" "Foreigners" mind set and get them to realise that we are all fundamentally the same human beings. In this world, a lack of understanding and education is the cause of most of our major problems. You can make such a huge difference in the lives of your students, it's not English that you teach, it truly is "international understanding". We're here to help you out, so go on, try your best, be genki and make that difference!!!

Be genki,


(Also have a look at my "Why I do what I do" article from "kids com" magazine.)


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